FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 11, 2020
Akron, OH—The Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) and Building For Tomorrow’s (BFT) ConnectHome Akron Initiative is bringing no cost, quality internet service to Summit County’s most underserved communities through high speed, community “WiFi Zones.” The WiFi Zone project has been made possible through a network of community partnerships including Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from both the City of Akron and Summit County, in addition to Cares Act funding and contributions by AMHA.
“Nationwide, only 55% of public housing households have consistent and reliable connections to high speed broadband,” says Megan Conkle, coordinator of the ConnectHome Akron Initiative. “The WiFi Zone project will be life changing for not only current public housing residents, but also future families that will be helped by our agency.”
The project has the potential to impact approximately 9,000 individuals currently in AMHA public housing programs and an additional 11,000 individuals who are on public housing waitlists. WiFi Zones will give residents in AMHA public housing full access to wireless internet services right in their residential units. Previously, residents could access free Wi-Fi in common areas only.
“COVID-19 has heightened the public’s awareness about the need for reliable, affordable internet, but this is not a new problem,” says Brian Gage, AMHA Executive Director. “We learned with COVID that common area WiFi only helps so much, and is certainly not a permanent solution to the barriers our residents face. Community WiFi Zones are long-term, sustainable solutions to a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.”
In September, the housing authority launched its first WiFi Zone at Stephanie Keys Towers in Stow and is currently pursuing three additional projects: one at Pinewood Gardens in Twinsburg, Paul E. Belcher Senior Apartments in Akron, and Edgewood Village in Akron.
“AMHA’s goal is to have all of its public housing developments and buildings equipped with the necessary infrastructure to sustain long-term WiFi Zones by the end of 2022,” says Jason Colon, AMHA IT Manager.
Since 2017, ConnectHome Akron—a partnership between AMHA’s nonprofit subsidiary Building for Tomorrow, AMHA, and The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)— has worked to tackle the “digital divide” in Summit County, and in 2019, Building for Tomorrow added digital inclusion to its funding priority areas, indicating a sustained commitment to enhancing digital inclusion efforts in AMHA housing programs.
"Digital connectivity is often divided along socioeconomic lines," said Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan. "The current pandemic has only exacerbated and shone a light on the disparities that already existed in our digital age. We are proud to provide CDBG funding from the City of Akron towards the WiFi Zone project which will help AMHA provide sustainable, long-term access to quality WiFi for our seniors so they can remain connected to family, friends, and essential services and information.”
Since its implementation, ConnectHome programming has consisted of free Hotspot Lending Programs, Device Distribution, Community WiFi Installation, and Digital Literacy Training. All of which have been shown to increase opportunity among individuals of low to moderate income.
“Access to high-speed, reliable internet in public housing is not just a convenience. Residents need internet access to apply for jobs, attend virtual school, meet with health care professionals and participate in our increasingly digital society,” says Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro “With help from Summit County’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, AMHA will bridge the digital divide for their residents in Stow and Twinsburg. We will continue to look for opportunities to support the expansion of internet access in public housing.”
The WiFi Zone project is being implemented in both senior and family developments, both of which have faced significant challenges when being faced with remote connection and isolation.
“One of our long term goals was always to take this step towards digital equity in our communities. WiFi is a basic need at this point; kids are at home, parents are at home, seniors are isolated. Is not just a luxury to be connected,” says Conkle.
For more information on ConnectHome Akron, visit www.connecthomeakron.org.
Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority Community Relations Manager
330-805-1051 | firstname.lastname@example.org